Drycleaning unit shops are usually fairly small, but their size often belies the complex nature of the business and its need for an appropriately sophisticated management system.

The requirement for such a system is becoming more widely recognised in the drycleaning sector as is the way that EPOS (electronic point of sale) technology can deliver results.

An EPOS system provides much more than a method of handling cash and tracking the financial side of the business. The latest EPOS systems, used fully, can drive up spend per customer visit and also help the business to grow in other ways.

Better understanding

Mark Reynolds, managing director of SPOT, points to how the market has changed. He remembers that a few years ago, it was often necessary to explain to drycleaners how EPOS worked.

Now, they tend to understand what the technology does and there is often a realisation of the limitations of some previously installed systems.

This provides Mr Reynolds with an opportunity to show what a SPOT system can do. However, he does not usually offer in-shop demonstrations for practical reasons – difficulty of transporting the system, insufficient shop space or time in the working day for a full demonstration.

If the enquiry is serious, he encourages the drycleaner to visit the SPOT premises for a day.

Some two-and-a-half to three hours are judged necessary to show and appreciate the capabilities of the powerful system, but the drycleaner then readily acknowledges the scope, speed and sophistication of the SPOT package.

Mr Reynolds sees his business as a form of drycleaning consultancy, helping to make customers’ operations more profitable.

He says his customers are looking for consistency of operational speed – even when a great deal of data is stored. Instant retrieval of customer information is needed at the shop counter – even if the system contains details of 5,000 customers. Therefore, if a system does not have enough power, it can grind to a halt.

Ticket printing must be fast – SPOT offers equipment printing at 47 lines a second. Data must be stored efficiently so the way in which a program is written and the manner in which data is indexed is important.

With a SPOT system, the average sized shop never needs to archive data. With some other systems, archiving at the end of each quarter is needed and it may be necessary to “let some information go”.

Join the party

Shops with a weekly turnover of £3,000 to £3,500 should seriously consider a system – as should some smaller units. SPOT systems are used by a wide range of leading businesses. The systems provide accuracy and security with cash handling, and, through information generation, give more control over the business, assisting with promotional activities and growth.

Drycleaners value the way in which consolidated data can be automatically transmitted overnight to a designated point.

Remote communications can be important – even for a one-shop business. The owner of a shop is likely to find the ability to check accounts and make price adjustments from the comfort of a home office has considerable appeal.

Organising a marketing mailing is more appropriately conducted at a desk in the quiet of an evening than during snatched time at the shop’s counter.

Mailshots do not have to be complicated, but chances of communicating with customers are often lost. For example, as a year ends, a message in which the shop staff tell customers they look forward to seeing them again in the new year can produce tangible results.

Mr Reynolds believes general purpose EPOS systems are not suitable for the drycleaning sector.

The complexity of a drycleaning business is often not recognised. A unit may offer photographic processing, shoe repairs and other services in addition to drycleaning. Such a trading position is significantly more complicated than that, for instance, of a supermarket which stocks and sells products and which is, effectively, conducting simple transactions.

Notably, the drycleaning shop has no “stock”. The “stock” belongs to customers.

Mr Reynolds says any type of EPOS system will increase turnover – by between 5% and 12%. Making turnover grow more substantially is not difficult if software programs are well written and accurate. The ability to ensure that accurate pricing is always applied to items left for drycleaning can be hugely valuable.

Fifteen different categories of skirt can be indicated, for example, and then there are add-on products, such as a fabric protector, to consider.

Spreading the net

For the future, the use of real-time communications between locations is likely to widen. The reliability of systems that use the internet will increase as will the use of software remotely sited. Implications are significant for drycleaning group operations and businesses with a ‘factory’ processing centre or centres.

Colin Edwards, technical development director of TP Data, says that the wide recognition of the benefits of EPOS means continuing growth in the number of drycleaning shops with computers on their counters.

The introduction of EPOS is acknowledged as a step to improving business, and drycleaners’ expectations of computer applications have increased.

There is particular interest in touchscreen systems, he says. A touchscreen with an easy-to-operate, multi-level menu system is fast to use. Furthermore, there is less likelihood of operator error with a touchscreen than with a keyboard.

TP Data is introducing a Windows-based software package that is said to optimise the use of the touchscreen without the barriers.

During the development of its latest system, TP Data received positive feedback from drycleaners which showed that they now needed a marketing function.

Clearly, the way in which information on a customer’s spending profile can be used to drive up profitability has been more widely noted.

In the past, shop owners tended to say they did not have sufficient time to organise and implement marketing activities such as mailings.

On the trading front, the system collates a comprehensive report on a daily basis, and the data can be forwarded automatically by email to a pre-selected person.

Jonathan Beach, managing director of DryStream, says that an EPOS system is now the established centre of the drycleaning business operation and that the system benefits – efficiency, control and turnover/profit improvement – are acknowledged.

Confidence in systems is important, and Mr Beach states: “We have geared our business to customer service and product quality and reliability. We write all our own software so product serviceability is entirely within our control.”

He draws attention to the importance of value and affordable solutions, and outlines the comprehensive selection of equipment available: “We provide flat panel displays, touch pads, radio frequency scanners, data collectors and bar code systems, all of which are available to any DryStream user. We also offer a wide range of options for collection and delivery and factory-based solutions.”

Mr Beach says that customer feedback has made it clear that systems integration will be extremely important in the future.

“As drycleaners take on additional computerised solutions in store, the demand for integration will grow,” he says. “But this is a view DryStream identified early on. We were the first company in the industry to offer integrated credit card processing and we set the standard with card commission rates of 1.51% for all our customers regardless of size or turnover.

“We developed a software link for Autovalet users, and were the first to offer integration to Sage accounting software.”

He continues: “We can customise any software or hardware installation and our past projects include the development of innovative techniques unique to the DryStream brand. We have a programme of development in progress with other manufacturers to build seamless links with our technologies to provide powerful complete solutions for the industry.

At DryStream, we adopt a programme of continual product support and development.”

Going through Windows

The software platform DryStream XP is going from strength to strength as those using it adopt the Windows-based graphical user interface.

MJB Applications was established after the demise of InfoPos by former technical and sales staff of InfoPos based in Manchester.

All links with the old Croydon-based operation were severed. MJB found that there was considerable loyalty to the InfoPos software – now branded as M-Clean and that drycleaners were extremely glad to have this software supported by the new company.

MJB has continued to sell the software, which still proves very popular, but has found that there is increasing demand for a modern, Windows-based system.

It ascertained that drycleaners were favouring a touchscreen as it is easier for untrained staff to operate, saves space on the counter and has a more stylish appearance.

MJB has recently launched its new touchscreen system. Jon Berg, technical director of MJB, said: “With the new product we have tried to maintain the InfoPos tradition of speed and ease of use but put these features in a modern Windows environment.”

Paul Tate, managing director of MJB, added: “The old DOS system was, and still is, superb. But post-InfoPos, MJB wants to look to the future and that is definitely with Windows.”